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Myth: GM crops require fewer pesticides than conventional farming

pesticide sprayingTRUTH:  One argument for the use of genetically modified crops is that by splicing in genetic material to deter pests, weeds or insects, the GM crops require fewer sprayed pesticides/herbicides/insecticides.  Using fewer chemicals means more environmentally friendly practices and safer food for human consumption.  It’s a great argument and, if enough research was done (and they were determined to be safe), might be a great reason to plant said crops – however, recent research suggests the opposite is true.

Released at the end of 2012, researchers found that herbicide use has increased by 572 million pounds in the last 15 years for GM soy and only a moderate decrease (about 123 million pounds) in herbicides used on GM cotton.  So, ultimately, there’s been a huge net increase.  I’m certainly not a mathematician, but I don’t like those numbers.

How is that possible?  Well, simple:  genetic modification doesn’t make a crop resistant to all pests, weeds, and insects, but rather it makes the crop resistant to the pesticide, allowing the plant to be sprayed at will without killing it.  In addition, species evolve – some weeds have become genetically resistant to herbicides, requiring greater quantities and different types to be sprayed (insects are becoming resistant, too).

Big Ag argues that the author of this study failed to take into account the yield of these crops; since the yield was higher than non-GM crops, the amount used per pound of food produced demonstrates a decrease in pesticide/herbicide use.  I understand that viewpoint but disagree with it because ultimately, the increase is more damaging to the environment – regardless of the yield.

BOTTOM LINE: While the results of this study seem counterintuitive, the numbers don’t lie.  I’ve always said that one study does not provide enough evidence to generalize across the board and this study is no different.  However, the results are scary and, if nothing else, more research needs to be done before we begin planting GM crops everywhere.  If all of this evidence turns out to be the result of poorly designed studies, I’ll have no problem gnawing on a GM corncob; but the verdict is still out and the evidence continues to mount against Big Ag.



  1. Reuters: Pesticide Use Ramping up as GMO technology backfires: study
  2. The rebuttal: Big Picture Agriculture: An evaluation of Benbrook’s Pesticide Use Study and Evolving Super Weeds

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